"You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.
He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. " (Mark 16,5)


THE LORD'S SUPPER - (1COR 11,17-34) - II

Fr. G. Claudio Bottini ofm sbf - jerusalem
translated by Fr. Lionel Goh ofm


What took place in Corinth between the convivial group and those who were the cause of division? It is difficult to give a detailed and precise answer. Scholars attempt to outline the historical scene by using information offered by other Pauline texts, from christian traditions regarding the origins of the Eucharist and from testimonies of jewish and greco-roman background of the convivial reunions.

One firm point to note for the reconstruction of this tradition is the distinction which Paul makes between the "Lord's Supper" (v20) and the "own meal" (v21). The "Supper of the Lord" is clearly meant to be the consumation of bread and wine according to the command of the Lord, which Paul says he had received and transmitted to the Corinthians. "But it is not reduced solely to this; between the eating and drinking of the Cup over which the interpretative and oblative words of Jesus are pronounced, one consumes a true and real meal, with a table covered with dishes of fish and probably also meat" (G. Barbaglio, La prima lettera ai Corinzi, Bologna 1996 564). On the otherhand, the "own meal" is meant a profane meal that takes place at the end of a day and could consist of an abundance of food and drink. Now Paul says that this meal came to be consumed during the liturgical meetings in which "each one" (meaning not all but some of the wealthy members) eats on his own to the extent of getting drunk while others suffer hunger.

What was the relationship between the two meals? Probably the liturgical meeting of the community had these aspects: blessing of the bread, a communal meal or fraternal agape, blessing of the wine. At what point does the "own meal" take place? It cannot be said with certainty but nevertheless there may be two possibilities: the "own meal" took place before the liturgical celebration of the "Lord's Supper" began; or the "own meal" took place contemporaneously with the fraternal agape between the blessing of the bread and the blessing of the wine.

The second hypothesis appears less likely. It is difficult to accept that such extreme discrimination in Corinth could have taken place whereby the rich would have eaten a private meal in which the poor were excluded and that this meal was combined in the celebration of the "Lord's Supper".

It is more probable that the "own meal" consisted of a lavish meal eaten only by the wealthy before the celebration of the liturgical meeting of the community. This reconstruction becomes possible because of the stratified society of the christian community in Corinth. It resulted in a minority of believers coming from the middle and upper-middle classes and a majority belonging to the lowest classes of society including slaves.

Certainly belief in the Gospel and membership in the same faith community created spiritual and communal links between the believers in Corinth, but these no doubt did not succeed in eliminating all the massive difference and separation between the social classes present in greco-roman society; and of diverse economic conditions. These are expressed in many forms, beggining with the way guests are treated at table. The treatment reserved for the rich and noteworthy guests was no doubt different from that shown to the poor. If added to this, the liturgical meeting of the community did take place in the houses of the wealthy members, then it is understandable that the latter could resort to justify their diverse manner of welcoming guests without feeling a sense of guilt. It is thus probably that within this scenario that one ought to understand the introduction of abuses in Corinth which Paul strongly censured. "Without much ceremony, the wealthy began to dine and thus, when the others arrived and began the celebration of the Lord's Supper, there was little left on the table. In this manner the agape meal of the entire community assumed a sadly egotistical and strongly discriminatory dimension. The wealthy enjoyed themselves by eating their fill in peace while the poor were obliged to eat the leftovers of the banquet or remained with empty stomachs" (L.D. Chrupcala, "Chi mangia indegnamente il corpo del Signore [1Cor 11,27]", Liber Annuus46 [1996] 65 with an ample presentation of the problems and solutions viewed by various scholars).

Who informed Paul of this situation? It had to be from informers and rumours since Paul affirms that he had "heard" (v18) about it. The apostle showed himself very worried and prompt to remedy the situation: he pointed out the abuses and denounced the manner of conducting the eucharistic celebration (vv17-22). He reiterated the supreme norm of every authentic eucharistic celebration, namely what Christ himself did (vv23-26). He exhorted and gave some directions so that the celebrations become worthy of the Lord's Supper and does not incur the judgement of condemnation (vv27-34).

The most original aspect of this Pauline teaching is the link between the sacrament of the Lord's Supper and the christian community; between the memorial proclamation of the death of the Lord and the fraternal communion expressed in the common meal; between the "celebration of the body of Jesus given to us in death, and our existence as members of the ecclesial body of Christ" (G.Barbaglio, "L'instituzione dell'Eucaristia [Mc 14,22-25; 1Cor 11,23-24 e par]", Parola Spirito e Vita 7 [1983] 141). Once again one sees the moral and spiritual imperatives of Paul as having supreme theological indications. In this case, as in almost all of 1Cor, the motives are christological and ecclesiological in nature.

© copyright 1998

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